"The goal is to become the unique, awesome, never to be repeated human being that we were called to be." -Patricia Deegan

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Ups and Downs

There have been a few ups and downs in my world since my last post - already a whirlwind 6 weeks ago!
A monkey. And the shadow of the volcano over Bali, created by the sunrise

Keeping with my penchant for silly post-race recovery adventures (read "recovery" with a healthy dose of scepticism), I headed off the day after the Kep Ultra for 5 days in Indonesia. And thus it was, two nights after the race, I found myself pulling an all-nighter in Bali. Whilst there are many Aussies who can claim to have done all-nighters on Bali, fewer claim theirs as an all night hike up a live volcano to witness sunrise at the summit. Gunung (Mt) Agung at ~3000 metres is Bali's highest point. Whilst I thought the all-night approach was more about the sunrise and beating the heat, I found out that the clouds tend to come in before noon each day, obscuring views for those who might prefer to keep to their diurnal habits. Our nocturnal adventure was a very fortunate one, as the rain gave way to clear skies and a full moon meant we climbed without using our headlamps. Truly magical. As were the pancakes made by our (mandatory) guide at the summit!
Hot pancakes at 3000 metres! It's like a Euro rifugio without the hut :)

After the mental "up" of the Kep Ultra and the physical "up" of the volcano climb, the subsequent "down" was physically if not mentally rather taxing! The next couple days were spent with more normal active recovery gentle walks, including as few wince-inducing stairs as possible :)

The Kep recovery phase came to an end two weeks after the event and was marked by a 25k trail run. I heard the trumpets sound and the town crier call, "Let the training games begin anew!"

So the following week was marked with the "up" of increasing mileage along with the "down" of intermittent fasting to shed 2kg of fat. I created my own form of torture via a few solo slogging fat-burning long runs.

Four days down in WA's Stirling Range did wonders for getting my weight back to where I wanted it. Three days spent adventuring and eating well (and sleeping cold?? Shivering increases metabolism, after all!) were magic for my body and soul. Taking two mates in tow on day 1, we tackled the (normally 3 day) Ridge Top Walk (5 min video link). This approximately 23km traverse (+6km access via fire trail) goes up and down over the main range from Bluff Knoll (aka Mt James) to Ellen Peak and provides about 2800-3000 metres of climbing. I'd done the traverse once before with others who knew the route. That time, I'd completed the full 46k loop. For this adventure, given it was winter (less daylight) and having no one with me who had done the route before, I decided to focus only on the traverse. The loop isn't really sexy, anyway. It's bitumen road and fire trail.
Early in the day - the majority of peaks behind me still to do.

My thought was to recce the route for setting an FKT post on the proboard site that others could then use for their own personal challenge. But after seeing the current state of the "trail," I said, "FKT? NOT ME!" It was so overgrown for about half of it that it reminded me of those times rogaining where I've chosen a really crap route to find a control and had to claw, stumble, and crawl my way through razor-sharp Aussie bush. I banged my right shin so many times on small, immovable thick bush/shrubs that I finished with a swollen ankle I couldn't bend without pain. Someone can FKT it, but at this point, it won't be me. I'll stick with "enjoying" the challenge of trying to navigate the traverse in daylight hours. Winter also provided an extra challenge in the form of wet rock, reeds, and clay, but also meant the daytime temperatures were more mild and hydration needs weren't as demanding (I still carried 4.5 litres, but came home with 1.5). High quality rain pants (mine were Patagonia) were a blessing, given all the wet and sharp bushes. The Montane rain/wind jacket was also requisite, given very strong winds that had me doubting we could do the cliff-edge climbing sections safely later in the day. I was being literally blown over at times in the open sections.

From 5 am to 6.30 pm, we traversed the range, starting and finishing in the dark, but managing to do all the tricky summit stuff in daylight. I wouldn't want to try to navigate up there in the dark! The following day, with the help of my full compression socks worn overnight, I was able to do my Bluff Knoll hill repeats. And the day after, I took myself on a 5 hour firetrail adventure (banging my poor shin again on a trippy-stick and setting back my ankle recovery, argh).

Thus ended a 150k + 5200m training week over 29-30 hours of training time.

And then I launched straight into the next week, taking on some new "ups" in the form of a steeplechase track race! It wasn't pretty, but it was fun! And challenging. I highly recommend it. I jumped the hurdles like logs on a trail, one hand on the "log." And whilst I didn't get quite as soaked as the girl in this photo, I was soaked to my waist from the five "river crossings" I had to do over the 2k event. The end of the week saw me leading a trail technique course for the Perth Trail Series and then doing a marvellous 70km/8.5 hour point-to-point run on the Bibbulmun Track. The next morning I was off to Switzerland!

So up in the air I went and down I landed in Zurich, followed by a train to my base in Aarau. It's low-lying, so it takes a bit of extra focus to get the elevation I want out of some runs. To emulate the UTMB course, I need +600m over each 10k. One of my key sessions included a 30k on the slopes of Mt Titlis, where I easily (well, not so easily, but let's say readily) bagged +2000m in the first 18k! And got a little time in at elevation, too, reaching 2500 metres above sea level. Another key session included 3 x 2k hard descents (bomb proofing the quads and tib ants). Switzerland's heat wave is not making it pleasant, but I'm trying to remember to be grateful for this running opportunity. Sweat-in-the-eyes and all :)

On the slopes of Titlis. Finger points to Jochpass, where I was 2hrs before
I expect all these training ups and downs have my max heart rate (HR) back down, too. I threw my heart rate monitor on for several runs in June and was surprised to see my max HR a full 10 points higher than is theoretically possible (based on previous VO2max testing). In fact, I ran a 1500m race at 104% of my max HR :) I was excited to think I was defying age and getting younger, but quickly came to the understanding that detraining after the Kep Ultra resulted in blood plasma changes that meant my heart had to pump more blood per minute to get the requisite oxygen to the muscles. Now that I'm fit again, I expect less pumps needed by the ol' ticker to get the same amount of oxygen circulating. What hit home here was that given the 3-7% shifts in max HR that can occur with training/detraining, one must be wary of using percentage of max HR for training zones. Anyway, I left the HR monitor in Perth. It's easier ;)

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